Yachting-Action Stations on the River!

image of yacht being towed
Towed up the River Adur
Homeward bound-towed up River Adur
Homeward bound-towed up River Adur

By William Mills

Yachting-Action Stations on the River!

First sail of the season causes some flaps outside Sussex Yacht Club in Shoreham Harbour.

My first sail of the season turned out to be a bag of thrills. Peter, my skipper had bought a new main and jib from Arun Sails. I couldn’t remember when I had last, or if ever, I had unpacked a brand new sail.

Getting the batons into the crisp new Dacron was challenging on my thumbs but it was moments of sheer joy as we wound the sail up the rig and admired its beautiful curve for the first time.

It seemed a waste to haul it back down then up again, so I suggested we quickly set off.

Peter’s yacht Helena is an 18 foot bilge keel cabin cruising masthead sloop with an 5 HP outboard auxiliary fed from a separate tank. I squeezed the fuel line bulb and petrol squirted all over my hand.

“We’ve got a leak!” I shouted to Peter.

“Use the reserve. It’s the small grey button underneath the engine.” He called back.

It worked! And off we went arriving a little later at the harbour entrance where the sudden swell rolling in from the English Channel made us catch our breaths.

William Mills-relieved after others came to help
William Mills-relieved after others came to help


Fortunately the light northerly breeze wasn’t strong enough to turn them into white crested monsters as I realised that one of the thrills of smaller boats is waves we wouldn’t normally notice when racing on Sunday mornings in a 35 footer become towering in Helena. Our sense of speed becomes much greater too as we get closer to the water.

We had an excellent little sail up and down then decided to put the new sails to test. The owner, Peter, is on a sharp learning curve having brought Helena only last year, and with me along as occasional crew/instructor.

The tide had by now turned and was starting to ebb and with the wind northerly it meant beating back into the harbour against wind and tide. Helena briskly tacked from side to side gaining us valuable yards every time.

However by the time we reached the bend in the river by the RNLI station the tide was picking up speed and the wind dying. ‘Time for the engine.’ I thought. It started easily enough and propelled us homewards bound. Well, it did for a few moments anyway. But then it suddenly died! A couple of pulls on the starter cord confirmed my foreboding. It was well and truly dead.

‘Oh dear! What next?’ My thoughts started to go into a whirl. I looked around. The choice was either the wooden pier outside the RNLI station or the slipway of a sailing club immediately opposite. ‘But the car is up the other end of the harbour. It’s that or drifting out to sea.’ My thoughts drifted  back to Arthur Ransome’s ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ when a group of children drift in a yacht out to sea and many adventures including being accused of piracy.

The thought of having to radio for help crosses my mind as our handheld reliably crackles in the background as it  listens to VHF Channel 16.

I look around for another boat as I fight down my rising sense of panic. Any sail upon the horizon? I would add we were some 100 yards away from the lifeboat station, Shoreham’s, being one of the largest and best equipped on the South Coast with people leaning over the railings watching us.

Just at that moment we spied a saviour hurrying down the river towards us. She of Sussex.

She of Sussex brave rescuers
She of Sussex brave rescuers


“Hail them!” I cried to Peter. A man and a woman on a larger yacht heeded our urgent calls for help.

After a few shouts backwards and forwards about the depth they circled around and came alongside. As Helena isn’t very heavy I reckoned I’d be able to hold us alongside with a bow and stern line attached.

These nice people were on route to Ladybee Marina from the Yacht Club boatyard, yet they immediately agreed to turn around and go back up the way they came to take us to our mooring. They were off to Beaulieu for the Easter Weekend and we hope they have a safe and pleasant journey.

Peter aboard Helena. New sail and being towed
Peter aboard Helena. New sail and being towed


As we neared our mooring we realised we were on the port side of them which meant they were in between us and the yacht club jetty. We got our mooring lines and paddles ready, a cabin floorboard will do the trick, then suddenly we cast off and were spinning in the strong tide pulling us away from the jetty and safety!

However with lots of paddling and frantic grabbing we finally managed to pull ourselves alongside a large rib and tie up to the jetty. Adventure over!


I learnt three things. Firstly I should never have taken a boat out with a leaking fuel line. It was asking for trouble.

Secondly it is wonderful being a member of such a good Yacht Club. We were both a little frightened and shocked, yet as soon we were ashore we had fellow club members to turn to for advise and friendly reassurance. We heard the lifeboat station had indeed seen us and were ready.

Third and probably most important, there are some lovely people afloat, like the crew of She of Sussex who immediately came to our aid when we so desperately needed it.



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